Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Election Commission: Shooting itself in the foot or revealing its true colour?

(Inset:) Rashid A Rahman

Last updated on 06 Jan 07:54 AM

OUTSPOKEN: The integrity and impartiality of the Election Commission (EC) has long been suspect. But the admission by Tan Sri Rashid A Rahman, a former EC chairman and now a vice-president of right-wing organisation Perkasa, that he is a supporter of the ruling BN has indeed confirmed that suspicion.
Rashid seems to be quite bold and unashamed to make the admission in a speech made at the meeting of the pro-Umno grouping on Dec 14.
Interestingly enough, he also told Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to stop “lying” to the Malays.
Be that as it may, that was not the first time the head of the body - whose constitutional duties include the conduct of elections and preparing the electoral rolls - was seen leaning towards the ruling party. Not too long ago Rashid’s successor who is the existing chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Yusof, was found to have been in the Umno membership roll.
Given those two incidents I am not too surprised when one of the states’ EC chiefs has privately indicated that increase of seats needs to be seen in the light of “Malay-Muslim political interests”. He was also of the view that it is hard “for us” to win back Penang and Selangor; remarks that obviously underlines the biased attitude towards the ruling Umno-BN.
For the record Rashid was the EC secretary from 1979. After he retired from the civil service, he was made the EC chairman and served the electoral body between 2000 and 2008. During those years Rashid conducted six general elections and three delimitation exercises in 1984, 1994 and 2003.
Prior to the December admission Rashid has, on several occasions, openly declared that he knew how “to keep the Malays (read: Umno) in power”. He has also claimed that he sought “to champion Malay rights and ensure the Malays retain political power”.
Apparently, all these remarks are more than enough to explain why Rashid now sit at the top leadership of the right-wing organisation. Or perhaps, his true colours.
It goes without saying that just like former Chief Justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad – who is also active in Perkasa – their sympathetic views towards Umno-BN have cast doubt on the integrity of the institution they once served.
The remarks also tell us why and how Umno-BN have managed to remain in power since Independence in 1957.
A few days after Rashid’s admission, his successor Abdul Aziz snubbed the interested parties who wanted to discuss the impending delimitation (or re-delineation) exercise.
In a Dec 18 report, the current chairman said that the EC had no obligation to listen to parties like the electoral pressure group Bersih. Aziz said the commission was only obliged to meet up with state government and local authorities.
It is interesting to note that the polls watchdog group had earlier argued that EC possessed no power to initiate the seat increase on its own; as it did in the previous exercises.
Despite the statement by Abdul Aziz somehow in Penang the commission refused to meet up with Pakatan Rakyat MPs who represented the state government on the matter. The three MPs were Sim Tze Tsin (PKR), Ng Wei Aik (DAP) and Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa (Pas).
Given what happened in Penang it was pretty clear that the EC has been inconsistent. And it remains a mystery as to why it has chosen to put a limit on itself. It is not rocket science that in order to make sure that the exercise is transparent and fair the Penang EC should have fulfilled the commitment put up by the national chairman.
It is not unclear as to why the EC snubbed the representatives of the Penang government. But what is certain is that the EC has shot itself in the foot as far as convincing the stakeholders that it is independence and non-partisan.
It is to be stated that under the Constitution the need to have a credible and independent election commission is mentioned in Article 114 (2) and the duty to do so has been put on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. The Constitution has also roped the Conference of Rulers in the process although it was just on a consultative capacity.
Many have argued that on this point the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is not obliged to act on the advice of the sitting prime minister, obviously one of the players in the elections.
Although His Majesty has been tasked with the job to make sure that the commission was credible it should not end there. The commission, after being appointed, should have taken the initiatives to show and prove its independence.
This should be the reason why the Constitution has provided several safeguards to make sure that the members of the commission would not be subject to threats and intimidations which includes protections from being dismissed at will as well as provisions pertaining to their remuneration.
One could say that in the light of the provisions, the refusal on the part of the commission to meet up with Bersih was clearly a breach of a constitutional duty.
In any case it has become a public secret that while the commission makes itself amenable to the Umno-BN it has invariably turned down many suggestions put up by the national opposition Pakatan Rakyat.
Even when the commission eventually took up their suggestion – such as the use of indelible ink – the implementation was plagued with various problems.
It is quite plain that the EC – despite the foundation and mechanism provided for by the Constitution – has chosen to be close to one party rather than becoming a constitutional institution that is truly the servant of democracy and fair play.
Dr Abdul Aziz Bari is formerly IIUM law professor who now teaches at Unisel. He is also Senior Fellow at independent think tank IDEAS.
- See more at: http://www.theantdaily.com/Main/Election-Commission-Shooting-itself-in-the-foot-or-revealing-its-true-colour#sthash.SMnrnL7c.dpuf

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